As budget deadline nears, City Council pushes to restore $53M in cultural funding

City Council members and advocates call on Mayor Eric Adams to restore $53 million in funding he cut from cultural institutions. Friday, June 21, 2024.
Photo Credit: Gerardo Romo / NYC Council Media Unit.

City lawmakers gathered with arts and museum leaders on Friday to make a final push for Mayor Eric Adams to restore $53 million in funding he cut from cultural institutions, as the deadline to pass the coming year’s city budget looms.

The coalition of City Council members, leaders of several city cultural institutions and advocates rallied outside City Hall to call on the mayor to reverse the cuts. The group also called for the funds to be baselined, meaning the dollars will recur in each subsequent year’s budget.

City Council Member Carlina Rivera (D-Manhattan) — who chair’s the council’s Cultural Affairs Committee — said the funds should be restored because they will support a sector that generates $110 billion in revenue for the city annually.

“We need the mayor to restore these funds now,” Rivera said. “People come here from all over the world to enjoy our arts and cultural institutions. And our schools and our education spaces deserve the arts that this revenue can afford. So why make these cuts? That’s our question today.”

The mayor and City Council must reach a budget deal by June 30.

Rivera noted that the mayor did make a partial restoration of $7.6 million to cultural institutions funding with the release of his $111.6 billion executive budget in April, but that far more is needed to make them whole.

“The mayor’s budget restored just a small amount, $7.6 million,” Council Member Gale Brewer (D-Manhattan) said. “[He] left $53 million in cuts in place, destabilizing organizations, threatening jobs and programming, forcing these wonderful organizations to operate with deficits.”

Lucy Sexton, executive director of the organization New Yorkers for Culture and Arts, said many cutlural institutions in the five boroughs exist in a precarious financial state and rely on city funds to operate.

“The average cultural organization in New York City has only a month and a half of operating capital on hand,” Sexton said. “Cultural organizations in the Bronx, for instance, that serve lower wealth communities, depend on city funding for 26% of their budget … Programs are being cut, organizations are closing, theaters are cutting back how many shows they’re doing.”

Sexton also said that vibrant cultural organizations help address some of the mayor’s top priorities like supporting people’s mental health and giving children safe spaces to spend time after school.

The cultural institutions cuts were part of a broader effort by the mayor to trim city agency spending in November and January by 5% across the board. The move was aimed at closing what the mayor’s budget office predicted to be a $7 billion budget gap driven by spending on services for newly arrived migrants and expiring federal pandemic aid.

While the mayor has cast his austerity measures as “strong fiscal management,” council leaders argue they were largely unnecessary because the city has consistently had enough revenue on hand to avoid the broad reductions. The council currently estimates the city has roughly $1 billion more in available funds than the mayor’s budget office has recognized.

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams said differences between the council and the administration over how much money is available and the restoration of cuts to several areas have left negotiations over the city spending plan in a “holding pattern.” The council is also pushing for reversing cuts to areas like early childhood education, public libraries and parks.

The mayor, for his part, has not said one way or the other whether he will agree to make the restorations the council has been pushing for. Nonetheless, he insists that he and speaker will reach a deal on time.

“We’re going to be all right,” Adams said, during a Tuesday press event. “We’re going to land the plane, and we’re going to make sure that we deal with the real affordability crisis that’s facing the city.”